Application: Photoshop CS2, can be adapted for other versions/programs. WINDOWS/MAC FRIENDLY.
1. I started with this picture. It's not great quality. It's oversharpened and the grain is very visible.
2. I pasted in into PS, then turned it into a base. (If you didn't know, bases are simply your background picture in an icon, so to turn it into a base all you do is paste it in a 100x100 document to begin.)
3. Basically, I'll be doing three steps. Blurring, Dodging, Burning, and finally, Sharpening.
So first I duplicate the layer (command/control+J) and take out my handy Blur Tool. (10%, Normal, NOT sample all layers). Zoom to 200-500%, depending on preference. I blur over most of the skin, and some of the smooth parts of the cloak. Stay away from lips, eyes, eyebrows, hair and folds, otherwise you will get something... scary. ^_^
Once you have that done, and you like the effect, (zoom out first!) then merge the two layers together. (right-click/control-click, Merge Down) You can make multiple duplicates for different parts of each step (like one for cloak blurring, one for face blurring, etc.) and merge them all together as the project goes on. It's helpful.
It looks better already.
4. The Dodging step. Duplicate the layer and take your dodge tool (might be hidden under the burn tool). (Highlights, 5%) Dodge all the parts that are highlights or brighter. In this case, it would be the top of her forehead, the top of her cheeks, some of the hair, and parts of the cloak. You can also dodge the little light in the eyes if you want.
5. The Burning step. Duplicate and use the burn tool. (might be hidden under the dodge tool) Put it on Shadows, 10%. Burn all the areas that are shadow or considerably darker, like the area between the cloak and head, the neck, near the eyes, near the folds and maybe some on the horse.
You see, we're actually making a difference now!
6. The final step, Sharpening. Make sure all your layers are merged together, or make a new layer and merge onto a new layer. (alt+control+shift+E/option+control+shif
There are plenty of other tricks you can apply too, but this, I've found, is a great starter. It may not look like much, but in an icontest it may be the look of your base that really affects it's placement. Plus it just looks better most of the time. ^_^
I hoped you liked this tutorial! Feel free to friend my shared icon journal, kiyomizu_icons, if you like my icons/tutorials.